Internal Company Memo Raises More Questions About Texaco's Operations in Amazon Rainforest
Amazon Defense Coalition
15 October 2008 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Chevron Now Faces $16 Billion Liability and Indictments
Quito, Ecuador – Texaco, now owned by Chevron, ordered its employees to destroy reports documenting oil spills in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador where the company is now the subject of a $16.3 billion potential liability in a civil lawsuit, according to an internal company memo released today by the group representing plaintiffs in the case.
"This memo is just one more example of the culture of deception, deceit, and destruction that characterized Texaco's activities in Ecuador and which are now being defended by Chevron"
Two former Texaco lawyers – both employees of Chevron – were indicted last month in Ecuador for fraud related to a purported environmental clean-up used by the company to secure a legal release to avoid liability in the civil suit. The new memo apparently was not considered by the prosecutor in bringing the charges, which are based on evidence of toxic contamination at former Texaco sites in the Amazon that the company had certified as remediated.
The Texaco memorandum – dated July 17, 1972 and directed at the manager of the company's operations manager in Ecuador – orders that all previous reports related to oil spills "are to be removed from the Field and Division offices and destroyed."
From 1964 to 1990, Texaco operated a large concession in Ecuador's Amazon region that included an extensive network of pipelines, wells and separation stations. Written by R.C. Shields, who was the head of all Latin American production for Texaco and served as Chairman of Texaco's subsidiary in Ecuador, the memo directs Texaco personnel to report only oil spills that are "major events" which are defined as those that "attract the attention of press and/or regulatory authorities."
The directive also orders that no reports are to be kept on a "routine basis". The full memo can be seen at www.chevrontoxico.com.
The Shields memo emerged via a discovery process in U.S. federal court in New York in a lawsuit between Chevron and Ecuador's government over who should be held responsible for the civil, liability. Texaco has admitted dumping more than 18.5 billion gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways and abandoning more than 900 waste pits.
All told, the amount of oil dumped in Ecuador by Texaco is at least thirty times greater than the amount spilled during the Exxon Valdez disaster, according to the plaintiffs in the civil suit. Cancer rates and other health problems in the region are far higher than in other parts of Ecuador, according to health studies presented at the trial.
Chevron bought Texaco in 2001 and will bear any liability in the civil case. Texaco reportedly caused hundreds of oil spills in Ecuador, many of which were "remediated" by setting them on fire. The company also has admitted to pouring sludge from the waste pits along dirt roads.
The court expert in the civil trial, in a report released in April of this year, found evidence of 276 oil spills by Texaco between 1972 and 1990, but it was believed those reports captured only a fraction of the overall number. Petroecuador, Ecuador's state-owned oil company, that took over Texaco's operations in Ecuador in 1992, also has caused a number of spills using Texaco's old infrastructure. The Texaco memo ordering the destruction of documents infuriated members of the legal team representing 30,000 Amazon residents and the members of five small indigenous groups from the area. The plaintiffs are represented by the Amazon Defense Coalition, which discovered the Shields memo.
"This memo is just one more example of the culture of deception, deceit, and destruction that characterized Texaco's activities in Ecuador and which are now being defended by Chevron," said Julio Prieto, an Ecuadorian lawyer assisting the legal team.
The $16.3 billion damages assessment, arrived at by an independent court-appointed expert, is to pay for clean-up of pits, improvement of infrastructure, a system to deliver clean water, compensations for excess cancer deaths, and disgorgement of part of Texaco's profits deriving from its use of sub-standard production methods.